September 1, 1939 – Lights Go Out In London – Europe Mobilizes – Evacuations Begin –
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Mutual Broadcasting – BBC Home Service – News reports – September 1, 1939 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
September 1, 1939 – Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the act that started World War II.
The day before, Nazi operatives had posed as Polish military officers to stage an attack on the radio station in the Silesian city of Gleiwitz. Germany used the event as the pretext for its invasion of Poland.
The New York Times article about the invasion included a report of the Gleiwitz episode as well as Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s proclamation to the German army, which portrayed Germany’s action as one of self-defense: “In order to put an end to this frantic activity no other means is left to me now than to meet force with force.”
In the rest of Europe: France and England declared war against Germany on Sept. 3, but neither country was prepared to fight and would not deploy a significant number of military forces until the next year, leaving Poland alone in its defense.
Although it had an army of more than 700,000, Poland was unprepared for Germany’s blitzkrieg tactics. Its army could not deploy its troops quickly enough to defend against the more powerful German forces. As a result, many civilians lost their lives.
One of Adolf Hitler’s first major foreign policy initiatives for Europe after coming to power was to sign a nonaggression pact with Poland in January 1934. This move was unpopular with many Germans who supported Hitler but resented the fact that Poland had received the former German provinces of West Prussia, Poznan, and Upper Silesia under the Treaty of Versailles. However, Hitler sought the non-aggression pact in order to neutralize the possibility of a French-Polish military alliance against Germany before Germany had a chance to rearm.
In the mid and late 1930s, France and especially Britain followed a foreign policy of appeasement, a policy closely associated with British prime minister Neville Chamberlain. The objective of this policy was to maintain peace in Europe by making limited concessions to German demands. In Britain, public opinion tended to favor some revision of the territorial and military provisions of the Versailles treaty. Moreover, neither Britain nor France felt militarily prepared to fight a war against Nazi Germany in 1938.
On this day, the die was cast and events were moving quickly and spiraling out of control. As a reminder, here is a series of news broaccasts from the complete day as reported by Mutual Broadcasting and by the Home Service of the BBC.